Meet the majors' first two 9-game winners

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Meet the majors' first two 9-game winners

From Comcast SportsNet
WASHINGTON (AP) -- On a bright, sunny afternoon, R.A. Dickey had the Washington hitters swinging at shadows. The knuckleballer baffled the Nationals, limiting them to four singles over 7 1-3 scoreless innings and leading the New York Mets to a 3-1 win Thursday. Dickey (9-1) extended the longest shutout string of his career to 24 2-3 innings -- a span that began against Pittsburgh and continued against San Diego, St. Louis and the Nats. "Literally, when I go out there, the only streak I care about is getting that hitter out," he said. "It doesn't change the mentality because there's a run of scoreless innings." Dickey became the first pitcher in the majors to reach nine wins this season, backed by Lucas Duda's fifth homer in eight games. Dickey also exceeded his victory total from last year, when he often was the victim of poor run support. "I'm getting more swings and misses. Other than that, I'm not doing anything differently," Dickey said. "I'm trying to induce them into hitting pieces of the ball, not getting solid contact," he said. Nationals teen Bryce Harper fanned twice. He awkwardly chased strike three in the first inning, then casually flipped his bat. No luck today, rookie. "He throws it hard, throws it soft. Sometimes, it starts at your face and goes down through the strike zone. He's a pretty unbelievable pitcher. It was pretty fun to face him, but going 0 for 4 is not fun," he said. "You're just trying to look for something up in the zone or just trying to swing as hard as you can or something. I don't even know. This is my first time really facing a knuckeball guy like that," he said. Duda hit his 10th homer, a two-run shot in the fifth against Chien-Ming Wang (1-2). Daniel Murphy, who earlier bounced into an inning-ending double play that left him in a 0-for-19 rut, later added an RBI single. The way Dickey has been pitching lately, those three runs were more than enough. He struck out eight and walked two, and most of the outs were soft ones. When Adam LaRoche worked out an 11-pitch walk, it was a major accomplishment. Mets manager Terry Collins said nice weather has been a factor in Dickey's good fortune, allowing him a better grip and therefore better command. "When you get in that batter's box, you better be ready to hit something that's fluttering," he said. Dickey credited a harder knuckleball -- thrown in the low 80s mph, up from the mid-70s -- with giving him a later, better break on the pitch. "I feel comfortable with where I am with the pitch," he said. "And look: It's a knuckleball. It can be fickle." Washington never got a runner past second base when Dickey was on the mound. He worked out of a two-on, no-out jam in the seventh and left after Jhonatan Solano's one-out single in the eighth. Reliever Bobby Parnell walked Rick Ankiel and after the runners moved up on a grounder, Harper grounded out to end the threat. Frank Francisco gave up Ryan Zimmerman's leadoff home run in the ninth before closing for his 15th save in 18 chances. The win stopped the Mets' three-game losing streak heading into the Subway Series that begins Friday night at Yankee Stadium. The Mets had lost the first two at Nationals Park in the series. Wang allowed eight hits in 5 1-3 innings in his second start of the season. The Mets won for just the second time in 10 meetings with Washington since last September. There wasn't a whole lot for Nationals fans to cheer about on a bright afternoon until Zimmerman's third homer. Midway through the game, however, there was a ripple of applause throughout the crowd of 32,096 when clouds briefly blocked the glare.

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HOUSTON (AP) -- David Freese struck out three times in the first six innings Thursday night. He more than made up for it over the last three. Freese hit his first career grand slam and a two-run homer and rookie Lance Lynn struck out a career-high 11 in earning his ninth win as the St. Louis Cardinals cruised past the Houston Astros 14-2. It was the first career multi-homer game for Freese and his six RBIs tied a career-high. "A typical night. Start slow and finish fast," Freese said with a laugh. Freese's slam in the seventh inning was the third homer of the game for St. Louis. He added a two-run shot in the ninth as the Cardinals scored a season-high. Carlos Beltran connected on his National League-leading 16th homer in the fifth and Shane Robinson added a two-run shot in the seventh to help the Cardinals take the series. Lynn's nine victories are tied with R.A. Dickey of the Mets for most in the NL. Lynn (9-2) allowed six hits and two runs to continue his mastery of the NL Central. He is 7-0 with 60 strikeouts in 15 career appearances in the division. "You could tell he felt really good today," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "The ball was jumping out of his hand he was blowing fastballs pretty good." Houston starter J.A. Happ (4-6) allowed five hits and four runs with five walks in 4 2-3 innings. The Cardinals were up 5-2 before piling on seven runs in the seventh. St. Louis batted around in that inning with 11 Cardinals coming to the plate. Rafael Furcal singled with two outs in the seventh before consecutive walks to Beltran and Matt Holliday. Allen Craig hit an RBI single before Freese's shot to the Crawford Boxes in left field cleared the bases. Jed Lowrie gave Houston a 1-0 lead with a homer to the first row of the Crawford Boxes in the first inning. Brett Wallace doubled in the second on a ball that sailed over a leaping Craig and into the far corner of right field. Chris Johnson followed with an RBI double down the right field line to make it 2-0. Chris Snyder hit a one-out single and Jordan Schafer drew a walk to load the bases with two outs. Lynn limited the damage by striking out Jose Altuve to end the inning. The Astros couldn't get much going offensively after that while the Cardinals heated up. Tyler Greene got the Cardinals' first hit -- a single to start the third inning. Happ then battled Robinson to a 12-pitch at-bat before walking him. Greene and Robinson both advanced on a sacrifice bunt by Lynn before Greene scored on a bunt by Furcal to cut the lead to 2-1. "When as a team you're fighting at the dish and he goes up there and has a 10-plus pitch AB, you feed off that," Freese said of Robinson's at-bat. "I think every team feeds off that. "The good teams that end up winning the division and getting in the playoffs, one through nine, they battle in the box. The goal as an offense is to not let the pitcher have an easy inning." A sacrifice fly by Beltran tied it at 2-2, before Holliday walked. Craig's broken-bat RBI single to shallow right put St. Louis up 3-2. Happ finally got out of the inning when he struck out Freese on his 40th pitch of the frame. Beltran's first-pitch homer to left center came with one out in the fifth to push the lead to 4-2. Robinson singled in the sixth and scored on a single by Furcal with one out. Houston manager Brad Mills made some strange changes in the ninth inning when he put outfielder Brian Bogusevic in to pitch and moved Johnson, the third baseman, to right field. Bogusevic was drafted as a pitcher, but had never pitched in a major league game and it was Johnson's first career appearance in the outfield. "It's something that is probably the last thing that a manager likes to have to go through, but to put that together to get through it, that's what we had to do," Mills said of the ninth-inning changes. Bogusevic allowed three hits and the home run to Freese in one inning. "It felt kind of strange, but once I knew I could throw strikes, I was more comfortable," Bogusevic said. Freese felt like hitting the homer off him was payback for one he took from him with a leaping catch in the stands on the Cardinals' last trip to Houston. "I don't like it. It's weird," Freese said of facing him. "But Bogusevic robbed me the last time we were here, so I'm going to count that one."

Virginia adds quarterback transfer from ECU

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USA TODAY Sports

Virginia adds quarterback transfer from ECU

Virginia has added another quarterback to its roster for next season as Kurt Benkert of East Carolina announced Sunday that he will transter to UVa.

Benkert announced on April 25 that he intended to transfer. The move to Charlottesville will reunite the quarterback with former head coach Ruffin McNeill who now is the defensive line coach for Virginia.

Benkert's bio on ECU's athletcis website lists him as 6-foot-3, 225 pounds and describes him as "A talented and polished signal-caller whose arm strength perhaps already ranks among the best in the history of the Pirate program ." He was named the starter by McNeill at ECU heading into last season, but a knee injury forced Benkert to miss the entire 2015 season.

As a graduate transfer, Benkert will be immediately available for next season. He will also have two years of eligibility remaining.

Benkert will now be thrust into a quarterback competition in Charlottesville with incumbent Matt Johns and fellow transfer Connor Brewer.

RELATED: TWO HOKIES SUSPENDED INDEFINITELY AFTER ARRESTS

Cravens to accept "challenge," wear Sean Taylor's rookie number

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Cravens to accept "challenge," wear Sean Taylor's rookie number

The majority of highlights from Sean Taylor's career, whether he's walloping a helpless receiver or intercepting a pass from a quarterback foolish enough to test him, come from the days when he wore No. 21. However, some may forget that the gifted safety actually donned No. 36 as a rookie back in 2004, before transitioning to his more familiar digits in 2005. 

Nowadays, Taylor's 21 isn't officially retired, but's it's essentially untouchable. So for Redskins players who want to honor the talented defender — Ryan Clark is a recent example of one who did — they have to go about it in creative ways (Clark, for one, sported the famous number in practice).

Well, rookie Su'a Cravens, who was drafted by the franchise in the second round on Friday, is getting creative. On Sunday, the USC standout announced he was going to pay respect to the Burgundy and Gold legend in his own right by taking the field in the same No. 36 that Taylor debuted in. The news came around the time that it was revealed the versatile Cravens would be listed on the roster as a safety, another thing that he shares with the Pro-Bowler he idolizes.

Here are some tweets from the 20-year-old detailing his decision and what it means to him:

Showing love to Taylor is nothing new for the Los Angeles native, though. It was something he did in college as well:

Cravens has certainly wasted no time since getting every prospect's dream phone call in endearing himself to his new team's fans. He's already said that he's "so damn hyped to be a Redskin" and called the passion of Washington's supporters "unreal." But it's his latest choice that will really have people enthused, as understanding and acknowledging Taylor's talents are surefire ways to become a favorite in D.C.

It's clear Cravens knows his uniform selection means a lot to the city he'll be suiting up for. And it's clear he's ready for the expectations that'll come along with it. Sure, he's only been a Redskin for a few days, but Cravens is already making an impression.

MORE REDSKINS: GRADING THE 2016 DRAFT CLASS

Orpik suspended 3 games for Maatta hit

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Orpik suspended 3 games for Maatta hit

PITTSBURGH -- Capitals defenseman Brooks Orpik has been suspended three games for his shoulder-on-chin hit on Penguins defenseman Olli Maatta in Saturday night’s 2-1 playoff loss at Verizon Center, the NHL’s Department of Player Safety announced on Sunday.

Orpik will miss Games 3, 4 and 5 of the second-round playoff series, which resumes Monday night at Consol Energy Center.

“Brooks is a key part for us on the penalty kill but we finished second in the regular season with missing Brooks for 40 games,” Capitals left wing Daniel Winnik said before the suspension was announced.

“We’ve got guys that can fill his role. Who knows what’s going to happen for him, but I’m sure everyone is planning for him to not be in the lineup.”    

Maatta, who suffered an apparent concussion on the play, was being evaluated on Sunday. Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said he is unlikely to play on Monday.

Orpik’s hearing occurred at 4:30 p.m. on Monday, shortly after the Capitals arrived at their hotel in downtown Pittsburgh. It is the first suspension for Orpik since he was suspended three games in 2006 for checking Carolina’s Erik Cole from behind. He also received a one-game suspension in 2003.

"Orpy's an honest hockey player,” Capitals left wing Marcus Johansson said Sunday from the team’s hotel. “He plays tough and hard and honest, I think. You know, sometimes stuff happens, I guess."

RELATED: Penguins had a 'heightened desperation' in Game 2

Orpik, 35, has played in five of the Capitals’ eight playoff games and has no points, a minus-3 rating and six penalty minutes while averaging 20:15 of ice time a game, including 1:45 per game on the penalty kill. 

The Capitals have the option of replacing Orpik with 28-year-old veteran Mike Weber or 24-year-old Dmitry Orlov. Weber, who played in Game 6 against the Flyers in Round 1, seems more likely because of his ability to kill penalties. Orlov played in all 82 regular season games and the first seven games of the playoffs before he was made a healthy scratch in Game 2 against the Penguins. Orlov was on the ice for a goal by Penguins defneseman Ben Lovejoy midway through Game 1 and saw just one shift the rest of the game.

Taylor Chorney replaced Orlov in Game 2 and logged 10:10 of ice time, including 40 seconds on the penalty kill. In three playoff games Chorney has averaged 11:40 of ice time and is a minus-1 with two minor penalties.

If Maatta cannot play, the Penguins may choose between Justin Schultz and Derrick Pouliot. Schultz, 25, has just one game of NHL playoff experience, logging just 5:52 of ice time in Game 1 against the Rangers on April 13. Pouliot, 22, has just 56 games of NHL experience and has never played in a Stanley Cup playoff game.

"We have a couple of guys that are with us right now that are good players that have helped us win," Sullivan said. "The coaching staff is going to decide which guy we put in there that we think is the best to help us win."

Schultz played in the Pens’ final 18 games of the regular season and appears the most likely to replace Maatta.

"Justin's another puck mover," Sullivan said. "He's a guy that can help us get out of our end zone. He has a real good shot. He can join the rush. He can play on the power play. So, he has the ability to help us in a lot of areas.

"I really like his shooting ability. He has a great one-timer. He can help us in that regard, but once again, he's another guy that we could put in the lineup that's a real good puck mover that can make that first pass and help us get out of our end zone."

Whoever replaces Maatta, look for veteran Trevor Daley to be paired with Kris Letang on the Penguins’ top defensive unit.

Letang logged a game-high 34:02 of ice time in Game 1 and 35:22 in Game 2 and was back on the ice for the Penguins’ optional skate on Sunday in nearby Cranberry Twp.

“He’s a freak,” Lovejoy said after Saturday night’s game. 

“We are so lucky to have a guy like him. He was able to absorb basically all of Olli’s minutes tonight. He was the best player on the ice, like he’s been since Christmas time.”

Caps left wing Daniel Winnik said the Caps made it too easy on Letang in Game 2, allowing him to break out of his own zone without enough physical consequence. That, Winnik said, must change in Game 3 Monday night.    

“When you have a chance to dump the puck in you want to try to put it in his corner,” Winnik said. “I don’t think that’s a secret throughout the NHL. You see it with a lot of top defensemen. We try to make them work as much as we can. Last night I don’t think we did a good job of that as a forward group. I didn’t think we spent enough time in the (offensive) zone. That’s pretty evident with the shots on net (35-24 in favor of Pittsburgh). If we do that he probably can’t play 35 minutes. We made it an easy game for him last night.”

MORE CAPITALS: WILLIAMS: 'WE WERE GETTING EMBARRASSED OUT THERE'